Sharpening Strategy and Leadership

Vector Marketing CEO Albert DiLeonardo embraces new generations of sellers and buyers.

Image: Thanks to DiLeonardo’s leadership at Vector, parent company Cutco Cutlery recorded its best sales year in 2019.

Many CEOs can claim they run a mature company, but only a few can say they’ve matured along with it.

Today, Albert DiLeonardo is ranked as one of the “Best CEOs,” by Comparably ahead of both Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook. Plus, Vector Marketing posted the most sucessful year in the company’s 40-year history. He is also a devoted husband, the father to four adult children and a man whom friends describe as dependable and high-quality — kind of like the knives his company sells.

Image: Vector Marketing’s Albert DiLeonardo went from selling knives to being named one of Comparably’s “Best CEOs in the Nation.”

“He’s had to have very nimble leadership in the face of changing online retail efforts and the changing millennial population,” says William Anderson, who serves as DiLeonardo’s Vistage CEO peer advisory group Chair. “He’s stayed ahead of it because he’s a lifelong learner and he’s very intellectually curious and humble. He’s willing to listen. That’s a wonderful trait in a senior executive.”

Vector Marketing is the marketing and sales arm of Cutco Cutlery, a 70-year-old company known as much for its sales force of college students as it is for its wares. The company trains young adults to present and sell Cutco products both in-homes and through virtual demonstrations. In an age of one-click shopping and fleeting eye contact, DiLeonardo says his young sales force remains the heart of the company.

“We have a foundation of high expectations. We talk about personal growth, about developing into the best possible version of yourself,” he says. “It is exciting to impact young people’s lives.”

And by investing in its people, DiLeonardo says his company has been able to not just evolve but excel.

While some mature companies have had a difficult time navigating changes in distribution channels, social media, and millennial and Generation Z workforces, DiLeonardo says Vector Marketing has been able to leverage these shifts to its advantage. In 2019, the company reported $273.8 million in sales, a 1.6% increase over the previous year and the best year in the company’s history.

Innovating in a changing landscape

While direct sales and personal connections are still the driving forces behind Vector Marketing, DiLeonardo acknowledges that we live in a digital world. That is why the company created a technology center, through which students who wish to become Cutco sales representatives can now apply.

“The students also now have the ability to interview and train virtually,” he says. “We also have a virtual presentation, so if you have an aunt in another state, you can show them the products through the virtual presentation.”

DiLeonardo says presentations are also shorter, in a nod to society’s diminished attention spans.

Image: DiLeonardo’s staff at his New Jersey headquarters.

Underscoring strengths

In addition to working with students during the summer and school year, the company has built a team of career sales professionals who represent Cutco in a variety of alternate channels, DiLeonardo says, including home shows, fairs and food-related events.

These sales professionals also engage with soldiers and their families on federal military bases. They also work with realtors to provide meaningful “closing gifts” to celebrate a successful home purchase. In fact, DiLeonardo says providing gifting solutions for business owners in any industry is a team priority.

In-person presentations leverage the drive and enthusiasm of the sales team, DiLeonardo says, while showcasing well-known products in a new and intriguing way. “In an age of impersonal sales, this high touch approach is a key differentiator,” he adds.

Valuing the entire team

DiLeonardo outright rejects the stereotype of millennials and Generation Z as entitled and unwilling to work. Every day, he marvels at a workforce that is just as eager and enthusiastic as those who came before them.

But there is a difference in today’s young adults that DiLeonardo says his predecessors could never have predicted.

“When I was in college, I was basically told, ‘Sit in a corner for 10 years, and then tell us what you think,’” he says. “We never had the ability to email the CEO of a company and tell them how their business should be run. But today, all those barriers are gone, and they’re not afraid to question things.”

A less confident CEO might bristle at the new brashness, but DiLeonardo welcomes it. As a result, Vector Marketing remains a desirable place for young adults to work. The company was ranked #23 on the Forbes “Best Companies for Corporate Culture” list.

“I love that they share their opinions. They are very thoughtful and come up with good ideas,” he says. “You can get a lot of good ideas from people that are a year into the business. In our business, young people matter, so we treat them like they matter.”

“They are the soul of our company,” he says. “We demand excellence in our people, and they really respond.”

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Vistage Perspectives 2020

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